Sunday, December 24, 2006

In The Dock: Misogynistic hip-hop

(If you're wondering what this is all about, click here.)

This week's subject: Misogynistic hip-hop

The case for the prosecution (Caskared)

To start of with, I would like to point out that I don’t like misogyny in any genre (gasp!)... anti-women electropop or plainsong are just as much in my no-likee list as hip-hop, it’s just that hip-hop seems to be the most overtly misogynist.

Also, early on, I would like to point out that by singling out misogynistic hip-hop is not to by default say that anti-men hip-hop is good at all either, but as is not as prevalent as the anti-women stuff I’ll leave that topic for another time and place.

So, to the case in hand. It’s not the actual music of hip-hop (although some ain’t to my taste); it’s the lyrics, videos and associated culture that has rippled out into wider society due to its popularity that makes calling boys and girls pimps and hos OK that bugs me. There are a whole tangle of things; I’ll pull at a few threads here that apply to recent hip-hop.

Hip-hop began in the tough, rough inner cities of the USA, and although now it is pretty global, lots of the most prominent stuff still comes from those places. The poverty cycle is rife, people have to survive and hip-hop is one way out. Inevitably roots are recounted in lyrics and imagery, no bad thing. A depressingly large number of women (and minority of men) are driven to prostitution and in some hip-hop this role of women is glamorised. Take the world of 50 Cent: women in his lyrics and videos are only there to please men, they’re subordinate to his control. Certainly his videos aren’t made for women... In 'PIMP' the ladeez strip off completely while Fiddy and Snoop letch around them. In 50’s lyrics in 'Candy Shop' the hos (or ho ho ho’s, it is Christmas! Sorry) brag about how great they are at their jobs, and how much money they are going to make from him. Where 50 plays the pimp, he mocks how he’s exploiting his lady workers, oh, and calls them bitches (he pops in a little homophobia too 'In Da Club'). Sure, there are some women who genuinely choose the profession, but the message of a glamorous sex industry is sent out to such a mass audience. What is a product of an unfortunate part of society becomes a catalyst.

In Nelly’s, Snoop’s, Lil Wayne’s videos, the male gaze is catered for in the most basic women-in-bikini way. Sometimes it’s parody a la 'Gravel Pit' by Wu Tang Clan. Fantastic song, but the well-covered men being the bosses of the pit while the women are tied up, the lovely Paulissa Morgan sings strongly as she writhes. It has an audacity and they do make light of it being Neanderthal... like lads’ mags ironic porn it’s funny, but not for long. In Chamilionaire’s world he prefers women from behind, and he can’t "help but to help myself". There are plenty of lyrics about what the young fellas would like to do to the ladies, and it’s not pretty, sometimes violent a la Ja Rule and Eminem. Not to forget the raps about women who should do anything to keep their man: the ride-or-die chick. Nice.

Women are in the vast majority not MCs (although this is changing!), they’re supporting voices, once again just playing out the will of the male artiste/producer. No wonder there’s so much male-oriented imagery. Thing is, it’s largely not even real beauty – the airbrushing, the plastic enhancements... it’s idealised in a way that says women should aspire to be like this, to please the men.

The medium can’t help but be reductive, and there is no moral obligation or accountability to society, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it. There is an argument that nekked ladies is a celebration of the female form, that not liking it is fusty and the women really want to be nakedy. But is it their choice, and do they also want to be reduced to being at disposable service to the men-folk? Of course some yes, and I’m teetering on the brink of so many huge discussions here... but my basic point for this little rant is that misogynistic hip-hop gives an acceptable face and makes popular the idea that women are only here to look good, and to be subordinate to men, supporting an environment that allows sexism to continue. Calling women a ho, bitch, yeah, funny, only not really.

The case for the defence (Jonathan S)

I’m gonna have to come at this from a tricksy angle, as defending misogynism in any shape or form is not something I wanna do, but I’ll take this, if I may, as an opportunity to argue that anyone who decides to ignore or deride rap tunes which exhibit sexist lyrics may be making a creditable moral stand, but is also volunteering to miss some of the best music and lyrics ever, for there is as much to admire as deride in a genre which continues to dazzle linguistically and, frankly, beats indie-rock’s tepid songsmiths into a cocked hat. Or should that be a cocked GAT?

I remember the first rap record I fell for: walking around all summer with Snoop’s ‘Doggystyle’ on constant repeat, wondering whether I could justify loving music which was so gloriously technicolour and funky and simultaneously so lyrically VILE. And there’s plenty to baulk at on that record, and others of its ilk, but not so much that I want to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Although ‘Aint No Fun’ features some of the worst lines in rap (Korupt’s verse in particular, where "cause she ain't nuthin but a bitch to me" is pretty much the most acceptable line) it also features Nate Dogg’s disarming confession:

"...cause I have never met a girl
That I loved in the whole wide world

Ben Folds does a pretty good rendition, actually, of Dre’s ‘Bitches Ain’t Shit’ where he drops the accompaniment out altogether to isolate Snoop’s one moment of vulnerability:

"I kick in the do', I look on the flo'
It's my little cousin Daz and he's fuckin' my ho, yo
I uncocked my shit...
But I’m still loc’ed.
Man. Fuck that shit.

As my musical palette expanded, I got used to this split; I would be appalled by the misogyny of a lot of rap and then amazed and intrigued by the complexity of the rhymes spun by people like Biggie and Nas. Of course, with the likes of De La Soul, A Tribe Called Quest, Mos Def and Roots Manuva it’s possible to listen to conscious, intelligent rap that DOESN'T denigrate women, but ignoring misogynist hip-hop altogether means missing out on extraordinary treasures.

The genre’s right-out-in-front wordsmith, Nas, straddles this divide. Sure, ‘Rewind’ includes pretty unpleasant lines about women. But it also features the rapper spinning together a story with remarkable skill, describing his day backwards:

"Sitting in back of this chair, we hitting the roach
The smoke goes back in the blunt, the blunt gets bigger in growth
Jungle unrolls it, put his weed back in the jar
The blunt turns back into a cigar

Ice Cube’s rhymes, meanwhile, may concentrate on playin’ ball and fuckin’ hos, but just when you’ve got ‘It Was A Good Day’ down as a hymn to brainless hedonism, Cube raps:

"Plus nobody I know got killed in South Central L.A.
Shit. Today was a good day.

Elsewhere, so much stereotypically misogynistic hip-hop just contains stunning observations, whether you agree with them or not; try AZ’s verse on Nas’s ‘Life’s A Bitch’, beginning with the following:

"Visualizin' the realism of life and actuality
Fuck who's the baddest - a person's status depends on salary.

John Darnielle of The Mountain Goats, meanwhile, recently observed, "There's not a rock writer as good as Ghostface. He's just shocking":

"We left the jewelry store, feelin' like we left the morgue
We was frozen, and I brought an iced-out Trojan
That's for pussies whose golden, who got Toney wide open
I put my ring up to my man's waves and seen an ocean
Move like a wolf, kid, in sheep's clothing
Snatch the money bag off the milk truck and kept boating
I be potent like Ibuprofen, I be coastin'

Hip-hop can be unpleasant in a variety of ways – chiefly in its rampant misogyny. On the other hand, it’s often wildly creative, articulate and honest; it has its roots in celebration and liberation and is often created in an environment of poverty and exploitation. Deriding it as "misogynist hip-hop" means having to ignore a wonderful tradition of black-hearted story-telling, exhibited to stunning effect in songs like Eminem’s ‘Stan’, Biggie’s ‘Things Done Changed’ ("My mom's got cancer of the breast / Now ask me why I’m motherfuckin' stressed") or Slick Rick’s ‘Lodi-Dodi’. Rap may be better WITHOUT sexism, sure, but that’s not the way it works – hip-hop is dark, unique, shocking, offensive, frustrating, sensational.

It may offend your ears, but it’s unputdownable.

* * * * *

Thanks to Caskared and Jonathan. Now it's over to you. Guilty or innocent - YOU decide. The comments box is open and awaiting your comments - you've got until a week on Friday (5th January) to make up your mind...

Friday, December 22, 2006

In The Dock: Goth - the verdict

Neck and neck until the later stages, but an increasingly familiar story in the end...

In favour of Phill's case for the prosecution: 4 (Simon, Nick The Snick, Paul, Ben)

In favour of James' case for the defence: 6 (Pete A, Lord Bargain, Caskared, Ian, Swiss Toni, Malcolm)

Abstentions: Damo

Snakebite and black all round, then.

Thanks to Phill and James for their contributions.

Coming soon (hopefully): Caskared and Jonathan S tackle misogynistic hip-hop.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Good to go

Hello, firstly. I'm Simon, and while my natural musical habitat is Sweeping The Nation I'll be posting every so often on here, for the most part gig reviews that I'd previously been storing away on the site's Myspace blog. Like this one:


In what is either a reflection of how slow news of breaking bands travels or of the Leicester public's cautiousness about going out on a Sunday night, Goodbooks - Columbia signings after an A&R chase of Blazing Saddles proportions, Zane Lowe and MTV2 supported, NME tips for '06 at the beginning of the year - played to what a quick headcount confirmed was twenty people. Not only the smallest audience of any gig I've been to in 2006, but actively disconcerting. Local support, briefly: Kyte melded Hope Of The States guitars and samples with melodic mid-range indie (my thought was Oxford contenders Fell City Girl) and may be worth keeping an eye on. White Star Magic have heard the first Kasabian album and think the electronic touches just got in the way.

Reviewing the Truck festival in July, possibly in some flu-induced stupor, I described Goodbooks as "one of the few new British guitar bands worth bothering about". Flu, incidentally, surely brought on by watching them during a heavy rainstorm. Under cover and close up they're no less eyecatching, not least for the interplay between purple hoodie-sporting Chris Porter's pulsing, raggedly melodic basslines and the jerky post-post-punk drums of Leo von Bulow-Quirk (still a name to conjure with), garnished with JP Duncan's synths - they're not as openly electro-influenced as many a reviewer would have you believe but the keyboards add atmosphere and edginess - and up front the implausibly youthful looking Max Cooke, casual of vocal, David Byrne-esque of guitar, thoughtful of lyric. The opening one-two of war-themed Passchendaele, still a contender for song of the year round here, and jerky free mp3 single Turn It Back deserve to get people moving. With this few self-conscious people there it obviously doesn't. If they're disappointed it doesn't show, although a partly inaudible keyboard and defective microphone nearly derails proceedings early on and it does seem a shortened set with little in the way of banter. They've got plenty of songs where those two came from, The Curse Of Saul's Hot Chip disco-funk rhythms standing out, but rarely are the hooks, secretly catchy choruses or gradual left turns found wanting. By closer and previous single Walk With Me, dispatched with both the minimum of fuss and nervous energy to spare, it's clear they won't be playing to this few people for much longer.

Monday, December 18, 2006

In The Dock: Goth

(If you're wondering what this is all about, click here.)

This week's subject: Goth

The case for the prosecution (Phill)

Let's get straight to the point here - goth music is rubbish.

Now is that a crime? Well when you've heard that terrible introduction of 'Bela Lugosi's Dead' by Bauhaus as many times as I have, the answer is yes.

As a musical genre, goth surely must have less quality songs than any other. I could count them on the fingers of one hand (if I'd lost four fingers in a nasty industrial accident) - Yes that's right - ONE. 'The Temple Of Love' by the Sisters Of Mercy. I'm not counting 'This Corrosion' by the same band, as it is essentially the same song, plus it was produced by Meatloaf collaborator Jim Steinman - so that disqualifies it.

Goth music has no innovation or humour. When a musician such as Marilyn Manson attempts to use elements of goth and mix it with both of these qualities, he is instantly disowned by goths everywhere.

The music is an irrelevance, but that alone is not a case for prosecution. Aside from the problem of goth music itself - let's talk about the other problem with goth music - goths!

They are generally the most miserable bunch of people I've ever met (with a couple of obvious exceptions). Goths are gullible too. Get any band who use minor chords, stick a bit of make-up on and back-comb your hair and goths lap it up. Take a look at Danielle Dax - rubbish. I once went on an evening out with a group of goths and half of them refused to acknowledge me due to the fact I wasn’t wearing eyeliner.

OK let's get into details. I would argue that great bands such as The Birthday Party, Joy Division are not goth - they are post-punk. Yes there are a few crossovers - but is goth about the music anyway? The answer is no and that's the problem.

The whole goth fashion thing is a mystery to me, the colour black, the cider and blackcurrant, changing your name from Kevin to something stupid like Midnight.

And how about the dancing? Gothic dancing is the most anti-social and miserable dancing ever, not that you would be able to see anyone anyway due to the smoke machines used on goth club dancefloors.

For most genres of music the leading bands of the scene are great bands - think reggae (Bob Marley), punk (The Clash), rockney (Chas 'n' Dave). But for goth we've got the Sisters, The Mission and Bauhaus. Two joke bands and a bunch of talentless, miserable idiots from Northampton.

Historically goth's place in the Colosseum of musical genres will be a mere footnote with a mention of novelty clothing, winklepickers and bad make-up.

As such, I recommend a lengthy period behind bars for goth music, as well as the imposition of on the spot fines for anyone either wearing a Bauhaus T-shirt or listening to them on headphones on the bus.

The case for the defence (James)

Let’s start by being clear about what I am NOT defending. I am not defending lank-haired adolescents. I am not defending Marilyn Manson or any of his ilk. I don’t have anything specifically against these, but to my mind, they do not signify goth.

So, here lies the problem: what, exactly, am I defending? We ran into a similar problem a couple of weeks ago with R’n’B, and yet I think we have a bigger problem here. If we are going to be purist about things: goth refers to a small number of bands that played in a couple of small clubs in the early to mid-80s. Yet we all know that goth is far more than that. And here lies my first argument:

Once you start rolling out the boundaries as to what goth is, the boundaries just keep on a-rolling. As an off-shoot of the post-punk scene it quickly lost all sense of fixed definition. There are some bands that we can obviously include: Siouxsie, Cure, Sisters, Bauhaus, Alien Sex Fiend and the Cocteau Twins. Now, let’s be clear about this, less than half of these bands saw themselves as being goth at the time. The Banshees were credited as being the first big goth band, and yet she hated the term. But in the mid-80s, when I was a goth, these were the bands that defined what gothic music was all about. The boundaries roll out further than this, though. Joy Division, Birthday Party and Nick Cave, Swans, Throbbing Gristle, Lydia Lunch and Skinny Puppy all have their places in the goth pantheon, despite not being strictly goth at all – but you weren’t a fully fledged goth in the 80s without having an LP by them. A survey of these artists will not give a cohesive style. Assuming that we are not being purist about this: we are forced to acknowledge that this (non) genre, covers an awful lot of ground – from heavy rock through industrial through indie through pop through world music.

Secondly, if we look at the long term influences of goth, we find that the same is true. Aside from the obvious nu-metal and darkwave connections, gothic elements can be found in Americana (16 Horsepower), alt folk (Current 93), indie pop (play Franz Ferdinand’s first LP back to back with The Sisters of Mercy’s Adrenochrome and you’ll see what I mean). My argument here is that since goth is not a precisely discernable genre, ripping it from the map would inadvertently tear a considerable hole from the world of alternative and underground music. A hole that few would be happy to welcome – including Phill.

Thirdly, the image. Here I think that we are on steadier ground, since there is more of a discernable something to consider. Now again, I want to qualify my argument: the image that we are talking about is not necessarily the same as what we see wandering our city streets aimlessly on a Saturday afternoon. What I am discussing here is the range of carefully constructed images – especially fashioned in goth’s early days. There are three strands to this argument:

(a) People put time and effort into their hair, make-up and clothes. OK, sometimes the look is bizarre or jarring. But, despite my carefully constructed just-rolled-out-of-bed look, I really appreciate when someone takes that kind of effort. Back when I was a goth, I spent hours on my look. If someone has the inclination to use their image to say something about themselves (even if it says more about the amount of time they have to say it), I think it deserves credit.

(b) Often, especially on women (I have to be honest), the goth image looks pretty damned good. There is a reason that so many women have at least flirted with the goth image and that is precisely because it is striking, and provides elements of mystery and allure. When done properly and intentionally, goths look sexy.

(c) Goth clubs are safe places to experiment with sexual imagery. Goths tend to be accepting of whatever and whoever, and there is a freedom to express oneself in all sorts of ways without risking abuse or ridicule.

To sum up:

1. Goth music is difficult to pin down to a precise, neat genre.
2. Unless we are going after specific bands, we risk doing serious damage to the alternative music scene.
3. Goths can be sexy.
4. R’n’B set a devastating precedent to any future genre prosecution.

* * * * *

Thanks to Phill and James. Now it's over to you. Guilty or innocent - YOU decide. The comments box is open and awaiting your comments - you've got until Friday to make up your mind...

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

A shameless appeal...

This is a re-posting of something that was published as part of the A-Z.... but I make no apologies for that..... In fact, I need your help: I'm looking for votes for the Earworm of the Year 2006.

The nuts and bolts of it are that I require you to send your 5 nominations for Earworm of the Year 2006 to the email address in my profile. They can be anything you like: a song, a ringtone, a jingle, an advert... anything. I just need you to think what's been dominating your Internal Jukebox this year, jot them down in an email (ideally with your thoughts on each one) and then send them to me.


At some point towards the end of the year, I will take all of these nominations, chuck in the various songs that have appeared in the "Earworm of the Week" feature that appears every Friday on my blog, and then come up with the definitive list for 2006. Check out last year's poll to see what I'm talking about....

But what's an earworm?

Well that's an excellent question....


O is for… ohrwurm (Swiss Toni)

Have you ever had a tune that seems to be locked on a permanent loop in your brain? A melody so nagging that you catch yourself humming it over and over again? It could be the last song you heard in the car; it could be the theme to a TV programme; it could be the soundtrack to a computer game; it could be a mobile phone ringtone; it could be a jingle from the radio (and ‘Celebrity Tarzan’ is particularly guilty of this). In short, it could be anything.

If you have experienced this – and I’m sure that you must have – then you will already be familiar with the phenomenon. What you might not know is that this concept has a name: “Ohrwurm”. It’s a German word that literally translates into English as “earworm”, and refers to a song or tune that becomes lodged in one’s head. According to scientists, an earworm is a tune that creates a cognitive itch in the brain that can only be scratched through repetition. Professor James Kellaris of the University of Cincinnati College of Business Administration (and, I kid you not, an earworm researcher) reckons that between 97-99% of the population are susceptible to earworms, that women are more susceptible than men, and that musicians are more susceptible than non-musicians.

I don’t know about that, but I do know that I get earworms all time, and that they are highly infectious. Earworms are transmitted from person to person like wildfire – if you hear someone singing a song, the chances are that you will catch yourself singing the same song within minutes. I get hours of entertainment out of this at work: the guy who sits next to me is extremely earworm-sensitive, and all I have to do is to think of as ridiculous a song as I can, start to hum it, and usually he will have picked it up before I’ve got to the chorus. He’ll catch himself singing ‘Tragedy’ by the Bee Gees (or something), look confused and then start cursing me. Sadly he is now all too aware of the fact that this is a game that works both ways – I caught myself singing ‘Shaddapayaface’ this morning.

I suppose it could have been worse. My own personal earworm low point was when I was walking back to my halls of residence as a student and realised I was cheerfully singing ‘Heal The World’ by Michael Jackson. Loudly. This was followed by the realisation that I had been singing the same song all day. I was mortified. It was all I could do not to turn myself around and try to find everyone I had met during the course of the day to try to explain to them that it was just an earworm and that I wasn’t a fan….

So what are the world’s most earworm-y songs then? Well, everybody will be different, but here are the five songs that I catch myself singing most often (well, today anyway):

5. ‘2 Minutes to Midnight’ – Iron Maiden
4. ‘Rehab’ – Amy Winehouse
3. ‘I Will Kill Again’ – Jarvis
2. The theme from ‘Um Bongo’
1. Anything. Absolutely bloody anything. That's what makes them both such a blessing and such a curse.

Still. It keeps life interesting, and is certainly better than silence.

What’s in your head?


Votes please, and apologies for being quite so brazen about it.

Drum's not dead


The three men who finally take to the stage - after some unnerving ambient noise that has started to become wearing - are called Porn (The Men Of). A word of advice: it's probably best not to look them up online, especially if you're at work. The bassist (a stand-in for Billy Anderson, engineer for everyone from Neurosis to Red House Painters) wears a suit and the guitarist (Melvins manager Tim Moss) a Santa outfit. Drummer Dale Crover, meanwhile, is dressed as Elvis. Standing at the front of the stage, he takes a big bite of a banana to a round of applause.

And then they're off. With a bang. Except they've soon stopped again. And that's the problem - a bit of dicking (or should that be fannying?) about, then a song and with it a head of steam, but then more dicking about. It's something of a Pavlovian exercise - getting us salivating at a riff to die for, only to abandon it abruptly. There's not playing to the crowd, and then there's deliberately toying with us. It'll take more than Santa's mischievous promise of pot to win me round.

Suffice to say that LA duo Big Business cut rather different figures in the flesh than they do in the picture on their MySpace page. Bassist Jared Warren is unshaven and long-haired, while drummer Coady Willis, once of Seattle garage rockers Murder City Devils, belies his own clean-cut photographic representation, setting about giving a demonstration of how to play drums with both technical brilliance and astounding force.

Crover - whose own efforts behind the kit with Porn were sufficiently energetic to dislodge his Elvis wig - contributes guitar to a couple of Warren and Willis' sludgy clout-to-the-head songs, and shortly afterwards the unmistakeable figure of Buzz Osborne emerges and suddenly it's The Melvins we're watching.

If you're thinking "Who?!", it's time for a quick history lesson. Towards the end of tonight's set, Osborne expresses his disappointment at the fact that scheduled support act, the reformed Flipper, have had to pull out - thus depriving us of a sighting of Krist Novoselic, currently performing bass duties for them, and of their rendition of 'Scentless Apprentice'. But the Nirvana connection is not severed by Novoselic and Flipper's no-show. Oh no.

For starters, Crover was a founder member of Kurt Cobain's first band Fecal Matter, for whom Osborne also briefly featured. Crover then drummed on two tracks on Nirvana's debut Bleach ('Floyd The Barber' and 'Paper Cuts') and again filled in for Chad Channing when they joined Sonic Youth for a 1990 tour. Osborne, meanwhile, was the person who gave Dave Grohl's number to Novoselic. And as if that weren't reason enough for The Melvins to be hailed as the godfathers of grunge, they also originally featured Matt Lukin, later bassist with Mudhoney, and inspired every single band to ride the grunge wave out of Seattle, from Soundgarden to Pearl Jam. Impeccable credentials indeed.

Massively influential, then, but what do The Melvins actually sound like? Well, when pondering how to go about defending Birmingham's musical legacy recently, I considered posting just two words: "Black Sabbath". And it's Ozzy and company from whom Osborne and company most obviously take their cue, though it's also fair to say that the echo of Henry Rollins' Black Flag is ever-present in their fusion of metal and punk. The Melvins are unlikely to win any prizes for sophistication and subtlety, but for sheer no-nonsense wrecking-ball riffage they're hard to beat.

It's only for their latest album (A) Senile Animal (released on Ipecac, the label set up by Faith No More and Mr Bungle man Mike Patton with whom Osborne founded Fantomas) that The Melvins have expanded to a foursome - and there's a certain irony in the fact that it's a band called Big Business who have been swallowed up. Warren and Willis bring extra oomph, thump, thwack, weight. In particular, the effect of having two drummers contributing to every song - and not always simply mirroring each other, either - is quite incredible.

Each and every song is duly met with joy unrestrained by the fans at the front, whose behaviour - forming a moshpit, stagediving, throwing devil horns, lobbing half-full cans of lager about - is not that which one imagines occurs very often in churches, even those deconsecrated and converted into gig venues like the Point.

As for myself, I'm utterly transfixed by the way the spotlight illuminates Osborne's extraordinary hair (think a poodle perm exploded into a mushroom cloud) swaying and falling as he nods his head. The excruciating stiffness of my neck at the end of the night, after one final drum duel between Willis and Crover, is enough to indicate that I too have been nodding away furiously - and that I've been treated to a rather fine introduction to a rather fine band.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

"A lifeline"

It's not often the Manics say anything worth listening to these days, but their statement about Spillers Records is serious and heartfelt.

A couple of months ago Spillers was named among the twenty best independent record stores in an article by the Guardian's Laura Barton. Today a whole page of the main section was allocated to the story that the oldest record shop in the world is under threat from closure. Not exactly news to anyone in Cardiff who's been following recent developments in the local press, but worth reading all the same, and interesting to see the likes of the Manics and Columbia Records lending their support to the campaign to keep Spillers alive.

Spillers' legendary status is not in doubt; what is in doubt, however, is whether the store can cope with the massive hike in rent anticipated as a result of the city centre redevelopments going on around its premises in the Hayes. Developer Helical Bar claims "it is keen for Spillers to survive and would offer it an alternative site - but it insists that it is not the sort of shop which would fit in with the multi-million development springing up around it". In other words, they don't give a toss about Spillers' merits and heritage and just want milk as much money as they can out of the site.

Spillers is an excellent shop, but Welsh Assembly Member Owen John Thomas has suggested that local support for its survival is at least as much out a concern to guard against homogeneity on the high street: "As well as love of this shop, I think there is a general feeling that if you get rid of the individual stores like this one and replace them with chains you produce a clone city. I'm not against the redevelopment but there must be room for the old shops like Spillers too".

Click here to add your name to the petition Thomas has set up.

Monday, December 11, 2006

In The Dock: postponed

Due to unforeseen circumstances and difficulties, In The Dock is having a week off this week. Don't worry, though - it'll be back this coming weekend so you can get your regular fix.

Friday, December 08, 2006

In The Dock: Birmingham's musical legacy - the verdict

As featured on the Birmingham It's Not Shit homepage!

It was a landslide in the end, though it didn't look likely early on...

In favour of Alison's case for the prosecution: 5 (Pete A, JonnyB, Ian, Mike, Paul)

In favour of my case for the defence: 14 (Damo, James, Richard, Caskared, Swiss Toni, Jonathan S, Mark, Martin, Jez, Lord Bargain, RussL, Betty, Nick The Snick, Phill)

I'm reliably informed that Birmingham (or the West Midlands, or whatever) is off to celebrate its acquittal with a pint or two and a bag of pork scratchings.

Thanks to Alison for her contribution.

Coming shortly (with any luck): Phill and James go head to head over goth.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Side parting

Sad news from the West Midlands: psychobilly punks Das Fringe have decided to call it a day. The catalysts for the split were the departures of drummer Dusty Enclaves and bassist 'Tiny' Gene Pool, who have formed a new band, Nightingales, and guitarist Anal Ravine, who has left to join some bunch of chancers called The Fall.

Das Fringe - or The Pubic Fringe as they'll always be to me - were responsible for one of my favourite live sets of last year. That review led to Dusty suggesting I should write the sleeve notes for their next recording - sadly it never happened, but it would have felt wrong to usurp the inimitable Captain Lazonby-Threpwell in any case.

On the subject of splits, arguably the noisiest bastards in Cardiff are no more (bear in mind, though, that I haven't yet heard the bands that Mclusky's demise spawned, Shooting At Unarmed Men and Future Of The Left). The Martini Henry Rifles, who terrorised those of us awaiting The Young Knives back in March, have packed it in after six years.

The first I knew of it was when I read it in the latest issue of Kruger on Saturday. It was the first time I'd come across the Cardiff-based publication - and a damn good read it is too, with features on Hot Club de Paris, Love Is All, New Young Pony Club and Peter Bjorn & John as well as local types Future Of The Left and Los Campesinos!, and the Twisted By Design CD rightfully gets a plug in the reviews section. Little My are one of the bands playing at the magazine's Christmas party next Thursday at Buffalo Bar - and it's free entry before 11pm. May just find myself there...

Sunday, December 03, 2006

In The Dock: Birmingham's Musical Legacy

(If you're wondering what this is all about, then it's probably best if you click here before continuing onwards....)

This week's subject: Birmingham's Musical Legacy

The case for the prosecution (Alison)

I would like to declare at the outset that I am a Birmingham resident and pleased to be so. Thinking about writing this, I’ve been conscious of the fact that I don’t want to come across as a Brum-basher because it seems to me that Birmingham takes more than its fair share of abuse. However, I’ve decided that trying to be P.C. would be patronising and pointless; I reckon Birmingham’s musical legacy is pants and I’m ready to tell you why, decade by decade.

Birmingham is credited as the birthplace of heavy metal with bands like Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin and Judas Priest originating from Brum or nearby in the late 1960s. Leading bands in their field they may be, but what a bloody awful field! It’s always surprised me when friends with lots of music in common with me now declare themselves to be former metal heads, I find the whole genre completely inaccessible and inane. I’m not sure if the music is tuneless to my ears because it is/I am over/under complicated and I wouldn’t be able to pass comment on the lyrics having never paid them the attention apparently required. But perhaps the least appealing aspect is that the genre seems to go with that really weird and socially inappropriate hyper-enthusiastic personality type (think Wayne’s World) and that combined with a Brummie accent is just wrong.

In the 1970s Steel Pulse rose from the city’s West Indian population and won acclaim and even a Grammy, which is great. However, what followed were crimes against music: Pato Banton, Musical Youth and UB40. I’ll focus, if I may, on UB40. Now there’s no arguing that UB40 are popular, they’ve been going for three decades and have achieved #1 albums and singles in the UK and US, I just don’t get why. The quasi-reggae beats meandering along behind Ali Campbell’s stupid singing accent make for the most galling combination of sounds. They manage to turn Neil Diamond’s desperate plea for alcohol to numb the pain of losing a lover into cheery golden wedding anniversary disco music. How can it possibly take so many people to make such tedious music? Of course Birmingham blessed the 1970s musical landscape with other notable figures like the middle class punk Toyah Wilcox – though her appeal remains a “mythtery” to me. And let’s not forget everybody’s favourite Christmas glam-rockers: Wizzard and Slade.

On to the 80s and Duran Duran represented Birmingham in the new wave era. Apparently Duran Duran are to be admired currently, having reformed and toured to the delight of hoards of nostalgic thirtysomethings. I know it’s easy to reminisce fondly about the bands that provided the soundtrack to your formative years but, let’s be honest, they were a bit shit weren’t they? The posing seemed to take precedence over the music, with LeBon’s vocals straining painfully over feeble lyrics (e.g. Wild Boyz). And it’s not that all 80s music was just frivolous, Depeche Mode, Talking Heads, Elvis Costello and many others managed to make songs that went a little deeper.

I have to admit that I enjoyed The Charlatans and Ned’s Atomic Dustbin as an enthusiastic indie teen, but I doubt I’d be willing or able to put up much of a fight in their defence now. And any reprieve for Brum in the 90s is blighted by the fact that the region bestowed Ocean Colour Scene on us: I can’t even level any specific criticisms against what must be dullest band in all of history.

I’m not going to pass opinion on Birmingham’s musical contribution in the current decade as I reckon legacy can only be judged retrospectively. I’m told that Birmingham is the International Bhangra Capital and, even if this isn’t my kind of music, it would be great to see the city making a big impression in a dynamic genre like this. Hopefully Mercury Music Prize nominees Editors and Guillemots will also leave their mark on the bands of the future. I guess we have to wait to see, but I’m willing to be optimistic.

The case for the defence (Ben)

OK, so Birmingham isn’t the first city that springs to mind when it comes to a significant musical legacy. It’s no New York or London. Both Manchester and Glasgow can boast a stronger heritage than Britain’s second city.

But Birmingham still has much in which to take pride.

Appropriately enough for a city which thrived as a hub of manufacturing activity following the Industrial Revolution, Birmingham was where metal was first forged. At a time when Ozzy Osbourne is best known for starring in a real-life soap opera, it’s hard to believe his band were once musical pioneers. Black Sabbath took blues music into new heavier and darker directions. In recent film ‘Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey' their creative genius Tommy Iommi, composer of a disproportionate number of the Best Riffs Ever (‘Paranoid’, ‘War Pigs’, ‘Sweet Leaf’ and ‘Iron Man’ to name but four), may label the place he grew up, Aston, as “a shithole, basically”, but he also admits the formative influence of that environment upon their music. Iommi and Sabbath have in their turn influenced thousands.

Pursuing their own contemporaneous experiments with blues, meanwhile, were Led Zeppelin, who counted bona fide Brummies Robert Plant and John Bonham among their number. Achieving a near-perfect balance between technical virtuosity and visceral thrills, the foursome can justifiably claim to have invented stadium rock and, together with tour manager Richard Cole, to have taken the backstage shenanigans of The Rolling Stones much, much further – their on-tour activities involving drugs, alcohol, groupies and fish… But as this is explicitly about Birmingham’s musical legacy, just take a listen to the beginning of ‘Good Times Bad Times’, the first track on their 1969 debut Led Zeppelin I, and marvel at the contributions of Plant and Bonham.

And Birmingham’s legacy of decimation by decibel doesn’t end there. If Sabbath are the godfathers of stoner and doom, then fellow West Midlanders Judas Priest are the godfathers of speed metal. In quickening the pace and camping up the outfits, Rob Halford and co paved the way for Iron Maiden and proved that ridicule is nothing to be scared of. Better that than nondescript.

Even faster and significantly more brutal than Judas Priest are Napalm Death. Since forming in 1982, they have become synonymous with grindcore, an intense and unholy concoction of hardcore punk, death metal and industrial. Crucially, their influence has gone beyond the boundaries of metal; Atari Teenage Riot and the artists on Alec Empire’s Digital Hardcore label owe them a significant debt.

So, if you’ve ever had a metal phase, you owe it to Birmingham to vote against the prosecution. But even if the thought of sweaty, hairy, beefy men fills you with horror, you should still find Birmingham innocent. Why? A few reasons…

Firstly, Dexys Midnight Runners. If you’re sniggering because all you know of Dexys’ recorded output is ‘Come On Eileen’, to which you’ve been exposed at countless wedding receptions, then stop it. Too-Rye-Ay and all that gypsy schtick was shit, granted, but debut album Searching For The Young Soul Rebels – recorded with an almost entirely different line-up and featuring unspeakably ace #1 single ‘Geno’ – is brilliant, Northern Soul infused with the spirit and social conscience of punk.

Searching… revealed a degree of affinity with The Specials and 2-Tone, hailing from down the road in Coventry, and Birmingham can lay claim to their modern-day equivalent. Original Pirate Material saw Mike Skinner setting out as a keen-eyed, sharp-tongued social commentator; the streets he writes about might be in South London, but his formative years were spent in West Heath.

As a cultural melting-pot, Birmingham has long been a focal point for distinctive musical movements – whether for the politically-minded roots reggae of bands like Steel Pulse and Musical Youth in the 70s and 80s (it’s worth mentioning that UB40’s debut is in a similar vein), or, more recently, for the bhangra / desi beat scene which has Coventry-born Jay-Z collaborator Panjabi MC at its head but Birmingham at its heart.

Rather than risk sounding like a trying-to-be-hip dad, or pretending to know much about what lies beyond my radar, I’ll just say that there are clearly exciting things afoot in Birmingham. There’s no need to live in the past – Brum’s musical legacy is currently being made. Editors, Jamelia, Broadcast and Mistys Big Adventure are all doing the city proud, and if NME is to be believed, there’s a whole crop of Brummie bands just waiting to take on the world. Bostin!

* * * * *

Thanks to Alison and to Ben. Now it's over to you to decide if Birmingham is guilty as charged or unjustly accused. YOU decide. The comments box is now open and awaiting your verdicts.

Ladies and Gentlemen of the jury, you have until Friday to make up your minds...

Friday, December 01, 2006

In The Dock: Belle & Sebastian - the verdict

Another week, another walkover for the defence...

In favour of Jonathan S's case for the prosecution: 4 (Ben, Lord Bargain, Mike, Del)

In favour of Jonathan B's case for the defence: 10 (Damo, Swiss Toni, Pete A, Olav, Pete G, Dan, Caskared, Martin, Simon, drmigs)

So the Glaswegians walk free. More's the pity...

Thanks again to Jonathan S and Jonathan B for their contributions.

Coming next, over the weekend: I take on Alison over Birmingham's musical legacy.